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10 Good Reasons to Learn Foreign Languages

  • Discover Oneself

There is often a language that plays a special role in a family’s history. This language is that of the local land, forefathers and roots, culture or religion, or even in-laws. You may have come across this little child whose family immigrated one generation ago. For lack of a common language, she cannot communicate with her grand-parents who stayed back in their country. As she grows older, more and more questions come to her mind. By learning her parents’ language, she will also discover the culture and the country of her ancestors, and better understand where she comes from.

  • … and discover the Other

You may be in a large city or a small village, in the desert or the jungle, in an office or on the beach, abroad or in your own country. When the Other sees how you make the effort to address them in their own language, they will turn their head towards you, stare at you and start smiling. Whether your accent is barely detectable or clearly audible, whether your grammar is already perfect or still perfectible, the Other is moved by your respectful behaviour. They relax, open up, ready to share more personal thoughts now that a psychological filter has been removed. Language knowledge is an invaluable gate-opener towards the Other.

Nelson-Mandela-on-Language

Nelson Mandela on Language

 

  • Go on a trip

Be it for holidays, a stopover or a business trip, knowing the local language can change drastically your experience. Not knowing the language, have you ever been hostage to the exclusive grip of a guide monopolizing all exchanges with the outside world? Have you ever seen foreigners fall prey to a complete misperception of the host country because they could not communicate? Conversely, has the local language never made contact with locals, planned or not, much easier? It will sometimes enable you to find your way, have dinner at night, even get your passport back or go through customs.

  • … or go for good

Between 1990 and 2010, about 160 million migrants changed countries. Do you happen to be one of them? Whatever the reason to migrate, it is life-changing. Having a good command of the host language is a pre-requisite to social and economic integration. In some countries being granted a visa –let alone citizenship- is subject to a minimum level in the host country’s language. Parents sometimes struggle and prior knowledge of the language is a decisive advantage; children usually adjust much quicker and soon surpass their parents.

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Global Migrations 2005-2010 (credit Abel, Sander et al)

Global Migrations 2005-2010 (credit Abel, Sander et al)

 

  • Be successful at one’s career

As globalization increases, there are few jobs and positions left that do not require at least one, maybe two or even three foreign languages. English has become the unchallenged lingua franca of science. In business, one of the job interviews could take place in a foreign language. Language skills will enable the applicant to stand out from multiple candidates with similar résumés, if she manages to put forward her knowledge of Japanese, Spanish or Bahasa at the right moment. As for incumbent employees, some see their career development hampered by their weaknesses in international communication.

  • … and start by succeeding in one’s studies

The role of languages at school increases as that in life. In Singapore for instance, pupils take one of the two most important exams of their lives at the end of Primary School; half of the subjects are languages –English and their mother tongue. Elsewhere in the world, language level might decide which high school students will attend, impact significantly the matriculation results or give a huge edge in a University application file.

ScreenHunter_136 Mar. 30 21.43

The language section of a resume found on LinkedIn, exceptional yet increasingly common

 

 

  • Live better, live longer

Language practice shares cerebral mechanisms with those involved in old-age neurological diseases. Thus it has been noted that Alzheimer’s disease sets off on average five years later for bilinguals than for monolinguals. Do your linguistic gym and live better!

  • … and increase your cognitive capabilities

Knowing several languages is the ability to switch from one to another by focusing on the language used while ‘inhibiting’ the others. Multi-linguals resort to this capability even in non-linguistic fields. They demonstrate a bigger intellectual flexibility, a better ability to deal with ambiguity or apparent contradiction, and can cope with information while ignoring unnecessary or spurious signals.

factorial-task (credit dimensional-overlap.com)

Bilinguals are more successful than monolinguals at classical Strimulus Response tests where the stimulus contains conflicting elements to be processed or ignored (credit dimensional-overlap.com)

 

  • Marvel at other languages

You may be amongst those passionate people for whom discovering any new language triggers jubilant amazement. What sounds has this new language produced? What ingenuity will it come up with to convey such or such concept? Will it be isolating, flectional, agglutinative? How will it address, for instance, the possessive, given that some languages will alter the possessor and others the possessed, or both, or neither, some resorting to an affix, others to a particle, and others still elegantly doing without any grammatical appendix? Isn’t it extraordinary that the French version of this post should have 5368 characters in 1006 words, the English one 4978 characters in 980 words, and the Chinese one only 2174 Chinese characters?

  • …and understand better one’s own language

One’s mother tongue remains for very long the obvious response, the one found without having to look for it, the only possible option that no one even thinks of challenging. But opening up to a second language puts things in perspective. Without a doubt an additional language enables to further one’s native language knowledge. The language structure that such and such language has adopted becomes more palatable when compared to others: the origin of words is unveiled, roles in the sentence take shape and the meaning of words is refined. If shadow and shade have the same translation in French, does it not prove blatantly that ombre has two distinct meanings? Even the infamous agreement of the French past participle when used with the avoir auxiliary can be better understood if one is introduced to the Hindi ergative.

Levels of language structure (credit glogster.com)

Various levels of language structure : Phonology – Morphology – Syntax – Semantics – Pragmatics (credit glogster.com)

 

And what are YOUR reasons?

Ava the Little Mandarin Singer and Story Teller

Today we are hosted by Olivia and Simon who took some time out between two trips to share some of their multilingual life with us.

 

  • Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Simon, my husband, our two daughters Ava (5 years old) and Zélie (2 years old) and myself have been living in Singapore for the past 18 months. Singapore is our second expat destination after Sydney where we spent two blissful years. We are originally from Paris but before we got kids, Simon, who works for a bank, used to live in London while I was living in Brussels, and before that, in Moscow during my studies.

Photo Ava G - (3) avec Olivia - Small

  • What are your best personal memories of multilingualism?

I have had the chance since I was 10 to be sent by my parents each year to a different country to finish my school year during at least one month (Germany, UK, US, Italy). Despite the fact that all my French friends were on holidays while I was still at school, thanks to my Kiasu parents (!), I have kept great memories of this time of my life. It helped me develop a sense of adaptability to understand other culture’s perspectives and build friendships with people from different origins.

Now it’s my turn to be a Kiasu mum 😉 so both of my kids are going to the Singaporean pre-school and I would like to send Ava to the local system for primary as well. After 2 years in Australian kindergarten hearing her saying to my neighbor: “Good day mate!” while heading to the beach, I now see her comfortable in speaking mandarin to her Lao shi or singing songs with her friends from school.

I am amazed by the ability and facility that kids of that age can have in learning new languages and adapting to new environments. Beyond the language, I wish for my kids to embrace all the cultural diversity they are exposed to in order to grow up, thinking outside of the box and having a tolerant approach to other cultures, religions and traditions.

Photo Ava G - (1) Famille - Small

 

  • What is your children’s linguistic journey ?

Ava was born in France. Her first language is French and she started learning English when she was two after moving to Australia. In Sydney, we used to speak mostly English including at home, so when we left for Singapore, her English was already pretty good.

She then started Mandarin at pre-school at the age of 4. I didn’t realise the first week how many hours of Mandarin she had per day and I remember picking her up from school, asking: “So honey, what did you learn at school today?”. She was mumbling: “I don’t know”. She had given me the same answer every single day since she started pre-school so I started to loose patience and then she said: “The English teacher has been sick all week so we have had the Chinese teacher talking to us all the time” Oops….! Yes, I felt like a bad mother… The week after, the English teacher came back and put a little bit of balance in Ava’s mandarin learning curve. Now she is the first one to ask if she can tell me a story in Mandarin. She asks for Sunny Laoshe’s class every day and when her 25mn Vivaling class is over, she watches the video of her previous class with Sunny Laoshi. I feel relieved, no trauma in Chinese!

Photo Ava G - (2) avec Zelie - Small

  • Why do you want your kids to learn Chinese ?

To speak the most widely spoken language in the world, I guess!  Mandarin Chinese is a key language to speak with English and Spanish probably. One step at a time… 😉

  • What does VivaLing bring you ?

VivaLing is the perfect tool to help Ava develop her confidence in speaking Chinese. At school, she has very few opportunities to have a discussion in Chinese. She hears the teacher speak, repeats the words, writes them but is invited to speak mostly during the “show and tell sessions” while she has to present to her friends a 3mn story from a book she chooses and translates in Chinese. The gap is quite big for her, as she has no occasion at home to speak in Chinese contrary to many of her friends. Now, thanks to VivaLing and to Sunny, she has someone twice a week to talk to in Chinese, to tell about all this part of her schoollife that I am not always capable to follow. She also plays with Sunny, showing her her dollies, telling her princess stories… She is Ava’s Chinese friend from Beijing! Thank you Sunny! Thank you VivaLing!

Next year, I envisage enrolling Zelie. “Zelie, do you want to learn Chinese as well ? Yào”.

Many thanks to Olivia and Simon for sharing their experience. If you too would like to be featured in this series, do get in touch with us!

 

For Fanny and Alex, the World Is about Exchange

Today we get to meet Fanny and Alex.

 

  • Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

We are a family from the South West of France, expatriated to Singapore since last year. We wanted to discover the world more than just by one-off trips!

Singapore is our first expat experience but Alex and myself (Fanny) have been on the road forever, going solo, or as a couple, then with our two kiddies as soon as they were a few months old. We have roamed over Europe, on the roads of Mexico and India, from Lebanon to Indonesia with stopovers in New-Zealand, Malaysia, Morocco, Japan, North America…

For us, travelling is essential to understand differences (and we experience differences in our daily lives with our younger son’s disabilities), to open up to others and to build today and tomorrow. More importantly, this should take place through the eyes of our kids on the world: they are the future and they must get sensitized from today.

Fanny et Alex, avec Nathanel et Eliaz

Fanny et Alex, avec Nathanel et Eliaz

 

  • What are your best personal memories of multilingualism?

The best memories, for Alex, are work-related : participating in trade shows, speaking in turn French, English, Spanish and Italian, to the point that, at the end of the day, he felt like a native speaker of each language !

We have numerous personal and family memories of all the opportunities granted by foreign languages: discovering more, going beyond barriers, understanding others better during each of our trips.

More recent memories are our requesting our son to teach us the basics of Mandarin – so that we can immerse ourselves better in local Singaporean life – and the smiles of Singaporeans when we talk to them in Mandarin!

DSC_5020

  • What is your children’s linguistic journey ?

Our kids had never studied English before coming to Singapore. In Bordeaux (France), they used to go to a school which had traditionally welcomed many immigrants of Hispanic origin. So they started their linguistic journey with learning Spanish from kindergarten onwards. In parallel, at home, we have spoken sign language for several years until our younger son was able to speak verbally.

Today, Nathanel (9 y.o.) studies English and Mandarin at school and with VivaLing. In spite of his difference, Eliaz (7 y.o.), is getting sensitized to English at school and with VivaLing with immense pleasure; he will very soon start attending a special needs school in Singapore.

VivaLing Blog (credit : Fanny and Alex) - DSC2246

  • What does it mean to you to see your kids learning languages ?

Nathanel had vowed never to learn or speak English or any language other than Spanish ;-)! Today, seeing him chat with Singaporeans, with a big smile on the face, switching between English and Mandarin, is a real treat! For our older son, learning Mandarin is first and foremost a desire, a pleasure and an deep interest in a language that he describes as so subtle and singing. Seeing him thrive with other words and open up to a new way of addressing “others” and communicating, to a different culture, is key in the upbringing that we have chosen for our kids.

As for Eliaz, even at the « other end of the world », with the notion of « different languages”, he can benefit from a schooling system that is suitable to his needs without language being an obstacle. He can thus give free rein to his every day indulgences in meeting others and exchanging.

Foreign languages are a personal and professional asset for them. For us, the world manifests itself through Exchange and language is one of its main channels. The more spoken languages, the less barriers to discovery and meeting people.

VivaLing - Blog (Credit : Fanny and Alex) - DSC 7867

 

  • What does VivaLing bring you ?

The opportunities given by VivaLing are great from all perspectives!! A customized organization (perfect when your kid’s agenda looks like the Prime Minister’s), the possibility of adjusting to the kid’s rhythm while complying with the parents’, the convenience of sessions at home and even the rates. The interactivity is easy and perfect.

But above all, beyond the language itself, VivaLing enables to cross borders again and put our kids in touch with coaches from all over the world and all walks of life! In addition to language, our kids also learn how it is to live elsewhere. In our case, conversations shared with their coaches take our kids to the Czech Republic and Texas, USA.

Many thanks to Fanny and Alex for sharing their experience. If you too would like to be featured in this series, do get in touch with us!

 

From Shanghai to Dubai – Gaelle, JB and Their 4 Children Fulfill Their Linguistic Hunger

Today we are kicking off a new section of our blog: the linguistic family portraits. Each month, a family shares with us their multilingual experience, the reason behind it, its practical details, the challenges if any and the guaranteed joys. The family also treats us with pictures from their personal media library. For this first portrait we are privileged to be hosted by Gaëlle, Jean-Baptiste (JB) and their four children in the sands of the Arabian peninsula.

  •  Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

From our early childhood, my husband JB and I, Gaelle, have been exposed to a global culture. We were both born in France. When I was 18 months old, my parents moved to the US for 2 years. Even though I do not remember it, my parents often tell me that I started to speak English at kindergarten. Then they moved to Africa, and they tell that I was so happy being the only blond girl among my African friends. On his side, JB moved to Brazil at the same age, and spent 6 unforgettable years in this wonderful country. When we got married, we were eager to go abroad together. We lived 6 months in Vienna (Austria) and 3 years in Chicago (USA). However we decided to go back to France to start our family… but we knew that we wanted to live abroad again with our kids. Our first 3 children were born in France. Then my husband got an offer to work in Shanghai (China) where our fourth child was born. Last year, we moved to Dubai for another professional opportunity. Chameaux - HAZ

  •  What are your best personal memories of multilingualism?

When we travel to a country for business or leisure, we like to be able to interact with the locals and discover their culture – this is how we are. Our best memories are in China where we came across wonderful people. Speaking Chinese allowed us to travel on our own in the remote provinces where guides would not have taken us. Arriving in a village as a family of 6 was highly unusual. The question they asked us the most was whether the 4 children were ours. When they realized we spoke Chinese, they became much more vocal and discussed many different topics. . Chinoise - HAZ

  • What is your children’s linguistic journey  ?

In order to kick off their foreign language capabilities, we put our kids in a bilingual program (French – English) at the French school in Shanghai. They had one day in French with a French teacher and one day in English with a native speaker. They also started Chinese lessons at the age of 5. They learned speaking and writing. As a young kid, writing in Chinese looks like a drawing game, which keeps them motivated. Now in Dubai, they are learning Arabic. They still have classes in English at school but the challenge is to maintain their level in Chinese. Panda - HAZ

  • Why do you want your kids to learn Chinese ?

We believe that in the 21st century, it will become more and more important to be able to do business with China. Speaking Chinese and understanding the culture will be a great asset to be successful in this environment. In addition, it is much easier to learn Chinese for a child than for an adult. And very few people make the effort to learn Chinese. Chinese communities are more and more numerous and powerful around the world. Companies will need people who can deal with them. Shanghai - HAZ

  • What does VivaLing bring you ?

Since the school does not offer Chinese lessons, we have been looking for a solution for the children. We first started with a Chinese teacher but we switched to Vivaling for the following reasons : – Vivaling lessons are at home and save a tremendous amount of time in commuting – Vivaling offers a strong pedagogy which allows the parents to make sure their kids are learning something. The sessions are well structured with focus on vocabulary, pronunciation, and sentences. The coach is great, has a lot of energy and the 25-minute lesson format is very effective. Parents have access to the lesson content, the video, and the coach’s feedback. It makes it easier to follow what the children are learning. In addition, the flashcard activities are a fun way for the children to do their homework. – Before we started with Vivaling, we were reluctant to lessons behind the computer over Internet. Now  we realize that it is great. Children love it and feel very comfortable with it. VivaLing - HAZ   Many thanks to Gaëlle and JB for sharing their experience. If you too would like to be featured in this series, do get in touch with us !